We were approached by an Ethiopian developer and asked to propose a design for the interior of a spa and health complex in Addis Ababa. This enterprise is conceived as a reflection of the growing affluence and modernisation of the capital, to attract both local and foreign business in an opulent leisure environment. The structural shell being already under construction, our aim was to create a format for the internal elements of spa, gym, sauna, beauty salon, bar and facilities which generated natural circulation throughout the space, whilst evoking traditional features of Ethiopian geometry and design.
With this in mind, we took our inspiration for the overall layout from the fascinating geometric precision and repetition of traditional Ethiopian housing, immediately evident in the streets of Addis Ababa. This emphasis on pattern, intricacy, even tactual sensation, is a fundamental influence in our treatment of surface and form. Additionally, considering the economic instability of the country and the paucity of available materials, we decided to create a unified interior constructed entirely from local hardwood. This served a dual function, both through locating the spa recognisably within its cultural context, and through generating an enclosed, shaded environment to utterly seclude and protect the visitor, far from the stresses of daily life.
A sense of spaciousness and fluidity is created through the interaction of wood and natural light, filtered via staggered niches in the walls and ceiling; these apertures produce glowing strips and spotlights, enticing the visitor onwards through the building. This strikes us as a far more appropriate ethos for a health and fitness complex than the brutal white tiles and artificial lighting of its UK equivalents.